Sporting Times: The 175 Year Journey of Indian Sports

Sporting Times: The 175 Year Journey of Indian Sports

The Times of India prides itself on being the highest circulated daily in the world, a fact that continues to startle many in English speaking countries like the UK and the US.

Sports historian Boria Majumdar has compiled a veritable magical mystery tour of Indian sporting history in this magnificent album released to commemorate the 175th anniversary of this venerable newspaper with a glorious past.

Majumdar’s speciality is the history of Indian sport and he has written several books on this theme, mainly on cricket, but also football and the Olympics.

Though Majumdar has presented a wide range of sports, cricket understandably takes pride of place in this compilation. Even during the glory days of Indian hockey from the 1930s to the 1960s, cricket has always been the glamour sport attracting the biggest crowds and the widest media attention. Now of course it has grown into a monster that threatens to swallow all other sports in the country, which is a pity.

The amazing photo on the back of the dust jacket depicting the victorious Indian team on their victory parade through the streets of Mumbai after winning the inaugural 2007 T-20 World Cup just about sums up the all-consuming craze that is cricket in India.

In fact similar scenes were witnessed when Ajit Wadekar returned to the same city (then Bombay) after beating England for the first time on their soil in 1971, the golden year for Indian cricket which kicked off with the maiden victory in the West Indies.

For years the Times cricket coverage was indelibly linked with the doyen of cricket reporting in India, KN Prabhu. That today’s frenetic youngsters are not a patch on him is a sign of the times as much of the Times.

The masterstroke in this compilation is the facsimile reproduction of newspaper reports from the archives which gives one a sense of immediacy and historical feel of the events chronicled.

If 1971 was the pinnacle of Test cricket glory for India, 1983 was the year Indian cricket shook the world by winning the Prudential World Cup for the first time. It’s all here in these glossy pages.

Starting out as the Bombay Times Journal of Commerce in 1838, it switched to ToI in 1861. The earliest cricket report reproduced is from 1840 on a club match at Dum-Dum where the international airport is now located in Kolkata. The same year the paper published the rules of cricket. It was from the Parsee community that the pioneers of cricket in India came, and their landmark tours of England in 1886 and 1888 received extensive coverage.

Indian cricket and controversy go hand in hand and the first official Test tours to England in 1932 and 1936 had their fair share, particularly the sending home of star batsman Lala Amarnath – India’s first centurion – by skipper ‘Vizzy’ ostensibly on disciplinary grounds in 1936.

The newspaper went against widespread public opinion at the time by condemning Amarnath’s behavior and backing the captaincy of Vizzy – perhaps the most incompetent Test cricketer of all time.

Some of the most interesting insights in fact are from readers (many anonymous) and Majumdar has done to publish a number of these on various burning topics of the day.
It will shock modern day cricket fans to read that the proposed West Indies tour of India in 1946 had to be cancelled as the BCCI could not afford to pay the tourists’ airfares of GBP10,000.

Some myths are busted too. Farrokh Engineer has been telling all and sundry that he was the original ‘Brylcreem Boy’ of Indian cricket. Sorry Rookie. Vinoo Mankad and GS Ramchand beat you by almost two decades. Proving that cricketers have always been the darlings of our ad world.

I cannot help but end on a sour note. The disputed shop-lifting incident involving a cricketer (I refuse to repeat his name here) on India’s disastrous tour of England in 1974 has cast a shadow over the life of a highly respected individual and printing two small reports about this leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Apart from that blemish, this is a coffee table book every serious Indian sports fan – cricket especially – will find invaluable.

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